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Annual resource event offers hope to the homeless

Hunter Morrison

For people experiencing homelessness, finding care and resources can be challenging — especially in a place like the Kenai Peninsula, with service providers scattered across multiple cities and limited public transportation.

For over a decade, Project Homeless Connect has provided those in need a one-stop spot to access healthcare, housing assistance, food assistance and other social services, free of charge. They also offer free transportation to and from the event.

Leslie Rohr is on the board of the Kenai Peninsula Homeless Coalition, and is an organizer of the event. She is there representing the nonprofit Love In the Name of Christ, which offers homelessness prevention and placement services, and operates a shelter in Nikiski.

“Just making that human connection with people who are struggling," Rohr said. "Getting them in here for one day helps to get them past that fear of where they’re at, and give them hope that there is something out there for them. It’s our job to try to connect them with those resources.” 

The resource event falls just a day after the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Point-in-Time count, a census of people experiencing homelessness on a single night in January. The department requires all grantees, including Project Homeless Connect, to participate so it can gain a better understanding of how many homeless people there are in the region.

“So today, we ask the question ‘where did you sleep last night?’ The answer to that question helps us determine how many people we actually have that are unsheltered in the state of Alaska,” Rohr said. 

Rohr says an accurate count is crucial to state and federal funding of social service agencies. She says that funding is based on local needs. If there is no need, there is no funding.

Passing out burritos, cookies and other food items, the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank is one of many organizations present for the resource event. The food bank in Soldotna sees 40 to 60 households each day, with many more accessing food at its 46 distribution sites across the peninsula.

Greg Meyer is the food bank’s executive director. He says because of the state’s backlog of SNAP applications, the food bank is nearing pandemic levels of food distribution.

“A lot of people who never needed help before needed it, and we want to be there in a very non-judgmental way and welcome people in, and feed them," Meyer said. "This is awesome because this brings all of us on the peninsula together. Being in one room at the same time is great for all of us, but it’s really good for our neighbors.” 

Annette Barngrover is a former client of Project Homeless Connect’s resource event. In 2009, she was arrested for DUI and underwent an addiction treatment program. She says this event gave her hope, and helped her realize there were people there for her.

Today, Barngrover works for one of the event’s service providers.

“When I didn’t have anything when I got out of treatment, I came here and got my haircut, I got all kinds of gifts," Barngrover said. "It helped me out to get myself on the right path. It’s a really good program, and I’m grateful to be here to represent my community.” 

“I would hope that they feel appreciated when they come through here,” Rohr said. “They are valuable to our society, and they are a vital part of our community. We want them to leave here feeling like they’re a part of something bigger.” 

If you or someone you know is experiencing homelessness on the Kenai Peninsula, visit the Project Homeless Connect’s Facebook page.

Hunter Morrison is a news reporter at KDLL